Black Boys in Crisis: What Can the Government Do?
In this series, appropriately titled “Black Boys in Crisis,” I highlight the problems facing black boys in education today, as well as provide clear steps that will lead us out of the crisis.
For good or ill, education in the United States is at the whim of the governing party. A new president can usher in sweeping changes that can influence the educational system for a decade or more, as we saw with George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind. For this reason, it is imperative that a reliable, nonpartisan US Department of Education composed of a broad spectrum of educational professionals be in place at the highest level. This will ensure that, through any transition, basic standards and protections will remain in place.
For the black boy in America, simply implementing basic standards and protections will not be enough. We also need to work toward a fairer policing and justice system. The first step should be to remove money from the justice and police systems. These organizations should never operate on a for-profit basis. What that does is provide incentives to police officers and judges to find and convict criminals. All prisons and detention centers in the land should be managed and overseen by the government.
All police departments in the nation should receive long and powerful training on racism awareness, with periodic retraining. Whistleblowers in police departments should receive strong protections. Furthermore, all police officers on duty should be forced to wear body cameras, with serious repercussions should those fail or be turned off. These measures have been demonstrated to lower the rate of violence, particularly toward people of color.
This series has been, in some part, a litany of woes. We have looked at dire statistics on poverty and the graduation rates of black boys. We have looked at the injustices they face on the streets and in the classroom. We have looked at the rates at which they are incarcerated and the rates at which they are held back in school.
All of these things are true. I have seen firsthand how African-American boys are treated in this country, and I know the despair that can set in. I have seen black boys internalize the hatred and release it in destructive ways. I have seen black boys fail. In the worst cases, they ended up on the streets, in prison or, like my friend Isaac, dead.
However, there is hope.
First, the United States has recently seen some African-American male public figures who provide excellent role models for young black boys. These include Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose Between the World and Me won the National Book Award; astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson; Paul Beatty, the first American winner of the prestigious Booker Prize; activist senator Cory Booker; and, of course, the first black president, Barack Obama. For a young black boy, simply the knowledge that it is possible to get into the highest political offices and academic institutions in the land is tremendously liberating.
Second, there is a growing call for change. The emphasis on standardized assessments is being reevaluated as parents and teachers alike are reacting against the testing culture. The Black Lives Matter movement is having an effect: more police departments are undergoing racism-awareness training, and the larger population is becoming aware of the racism endemic to our society and how it affects young African Americans. There is a growing awareness of the financial inequality in our country, and a call for measures to level the playing field.
Finally, despite their grim history and the obstacles in their way, black boys in this country have performed above trend for many decades. They started from a much lower place than other groups, but are on track to achieve equality. If the trend continues, and if the government and social forces work in their favor, they should be able to climb to parity by the middle or end of this century, thus reversing nearly four centuries of profound injustice. Note, though, that this will not happen unless they are given the necessary supports.
That’s where we come in. All Americans have a part to play in helping African-American boys succeed. If you live in this country, you are part of a community. Let’s work together to ensure that the crisis among black boys becomes history and that the future is one of promise, hope, and parity.